Sloane Stephens: the teenager who upset one of tennis’ biggest stars
On Wednesday, teenager Sloane Stephens pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Australian Open history. The 19-year-old defeated five-time champion Serena Williams to advance to the semifinals.
The match ended with Stephens upsetting the elder Williams 3-6, 7-5, 6-4, but there was plenty of action in between those numbers. Williams dominated, struggled, left the court and broke a racket from start to finish, but it was the Stephens who kept her cool the entire match and was able to leave the winner at Rod Laver Arena.
So who exactly is Sloane Stephens?
Stephens stands at 5-foot-7 and is shorter than many of her opponents, but despite her size, power is not an issue. She has a big forehand, a solid two-handed backhand and a convincing serve, driven by her powerful legs. She also has serious speed.
Stephens has made steady progress over the years since she started competing on the tour. She finished in the top 200 in 2010, the top 100 in 2011, and the top 50 last year, when she reached the fourth round of the French Open and tore an abdominal muscle in the process.
Though she played through pain over the summer, she followed medical advice after losing in the third round of last year’s US Open, resting for eight weeks rather than having surgery. To avoid risking further wear and tear, she is not playing doubles. But she is playing singles very effectively.
Stephens lives in Westwood, Calif. with her mother, Sybil Smith, a psychologist and former all-American swimmer at Boston University, and her younger brother Shawn.
Stephens spent little time with her biological father, former NFL running back John Stephens. He died in a car crash in 2009, not long after she had re-established contact with him. Her stepfather, Sheldon Smith, died of cancer in 2007.
Despite injury and personal setbacks, Stephens has remained positive.
“You’ve just got to play the cards you’re dealt in life,” Stephens said in an interview with The New York Times. “I think I’ve coped pretty well. It’s just me, my mom and my brother, and I think my mom has done a really great job with me and my brother. I mean, things happen, and you’ve just kind of got to learn and move on.
“People in this world are far worse off than me. I don’t have a dad. I lost my stepdad, too, but I’ve been given everything. I have the best family in the world. I have my grandparents, my mom, my uncles, everyone. I’ve had some tough things happen to me, but I’ve never in my life wanted for anything.”
So what’s next for Sloane?
Stephens will face defending champion and world No.1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus on Thursday in the semifinal match. Let’s hope the teenager will continue to keep her composure and maybe even pull off another major upset.